Not one to rest on his laurels is NEIL GOURLEY.
In 2019, the 25-year-old was Britain’s 1500m champion, but is adamant that if he is to make the squad for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, he needs to do even better.
If I’m in the same shape as winning in 2019 this year, I don’t think that’s going to be good enough,”If I’m in the same shape this year as I was to win in 2019, I don’t think that will be good enough,”
“If I expect the same fight this year as I did then I think I might be unlucky.”
It says a lot about the best track and field event in Britain that a spot on the plane to Tokyo is far from guaranteed for truly world-class 1500m athletes.
There are half a dozen or more men in the sport in this country who are legitimate candidates for one of the three Olympic spots; there are fellow Scots Jake Wightman, Chris O’Hare and Josh Kerr in addition to Gourley, as well as a number of Englishmen who will be in the mix on the selection day.
While that level of competition would be overwhelming for some just to make the British squad, it’s what drives Gourley and what he uses as inspiration because of Covid during the break in competition.
Granted, for months at a time when you live in America, it’s a little easier to prepare, as Gourley had after the pandemic started early last year, but the Glaswegian made sure he didn’t waste a minute in the last twelve months.
“I know some people took their foot off the gas when the competitions were cancelled, but I saw it as a chance to train harder and see what I could do at altitude without the risk of races coming up and me not being ready,” he says.
The goal was what I could do to get myself in the best possible shape. I ended up being in the shape of my life – running times that I couldn’t even accomplish leading up to the 2019 World Championships.
“I did a 3000-meter time trial where I got a PB of about 20 seconds, so I surprised myself with the form I was in.”
In previous seasons, if the men’s 1500m was an impressive standard, the 2020 event has taken up a notch. In the few races that followed the lockout, Wightman, Gourley’s teammate in Scotland, set an impressive bar, running a new Scottish record of 3 minutes 29.47 seconds.
And while Gourley is anything but fascinated with the performances of his rivals, he is not oblivious to them either. Rather than feeling intimidated by the challenge of having to be in the shape of his life to keep up with Wightman’s likes, the thought excites him.
When someone like Jake runs world-class times, it’s hard to ignore, but it’s different with someone like him because I’ll be watching him race and cheering him on. I’m cheering him on, just as he’s a competitor most of the time, so it’s a fascinating dynamic,’ he says.
But it spurs me on because I know there’s not a lot of room for error, and I know I’m definitely going to have to be more prepared to beat someone like Jake than I’ve ever had before.
I’ve got to win my Olympic place, so I’m going to try to do that. I definitely don’t feel like I might lose it.
“Right now, anyway, I don’t feel too nervous – I’m just working as hard as I can to earn that spot.”
There’s still some testing to be done before Gourley can consider making his Olympic debut. Before he turns his focus to the outdoor season, a few indoor races early this year are the tentative strategy.
So the Glaswegian has a big year ahead of him, and while it’s a long-held desire to become an Olympian, Gourley knows he’s at a point in his career where it wouldn’t be enough simply to play in the Games to fulfill his ambitions.
“It’s never been my goal just to represent Team GB – obviously that’s something to be very proud of, but for me the goal is to win Olympic and world medals when the opportunity arises,” he says.
So if I couldn’t make the British team, then I would never win a medal anyway.
The goal needs to be to achieve a level where I can make the squad, and that means being in major championships and getting the ability to do well there. It goes hand in hand, thus.
“But my goal is definitely more than just making the team.”